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ing of the two last, says; “their impure followers
are not to be numbered,-springing up like mush
rooms :” and thus he certifies the time of the great pestilentia! irruption
irruption * Epiphanius, quoting froin Irenæus, observes, that they burst out of the earth together at one time, like mushrooms, the lurkingplaces of many scorpions T.
In short, by the united and prevailing testimony of the fathers, it appears that the Gnostics did not begin to swarm over the Christian Church before the period mentioned by Eusebius ; the end of Trajan's or beginning of Adrian's reign. Internal evidence may be collected confirming this account. Ignatius, (at the time of whose martyrdom, the Gnostics are described by these fathers as beginning to swarm,) in his epistles, written at this period, represents the leaders of this enormous heresy as ac@podnxios, still working covertly. He describes the Church of Ephesus as happily withstanding their impressions : but in his passage to Rome, he finds the heresyarchs busily employed in corrupting other churches 5. Polycarp lived to a later period, when the vast irruption had taken place. This apostolical bishop was frequently assailed by these heretical doctrines ; for Irenæus, when a boy, remembered him in that situation, stopping his ears, and moving from the place where he heard these Gnostical blasphemies, (as he says, was customary with him,) and exclaiming, O gracious God,
• Velut à terrâ fungi manifestati sunt;metenim non est numerum dicere eorum, qui secundum alterum et alterum modum exciderunt à veritate. Iren. lib. 1. c. 21, 22, 32, 33. iii. c. 4.
+ Cont. Hær. lib. i. 31. See also Tertullian de Prosc. Hær, c. 30. Cypriani Epist. 75, the letter of Firmilian to that father. 1 Ignat. Epist. ad Ephes, 7, 8, 9; ad Smyrn. 5.
to what times hast thou reserved me, to undergo all this !
Thus, although ecclesiastical history has preserved but few original documents belonging to the times of which we enquire, (for they perished in the Diocletian persecution); yet there is abundant proof of the period when the grand Gnostical irruption took place. It burst forth in Asia and Africa at nearly the same time. Saturninus, followed by Cerdo, and by Marcion who afterwards corrupted Italy, by Bardesanes, Tatian, Severus, and their multitudinous disciples, spread the poison over the east. While Basilides in Africa, followed by Carpocrates, Valentine, &c. overran the rest of the Christian world. Numerous churches and communities of these Gnostics continued to flourish, and to bring scandal on the Christian name, through that century and the better half of the next.
But in this their progress, they were vigorously opposed by the orthodox and
Chris tians; by Justin Martyr, Irenæus, Tertullian, Clemens Alexandrinus, and Origen; and in their wild philosophy, by the Platonic philosophers under Plotinus; at whose death, in the year 270, they will be seen to have been almost entirely sunk and gone.So that, taking all these accounts together, we find evidence, that the duration of the Gnostics, as a prevailing heresy and pestilential swarm, (for, it is in that view only that, consistently with the symbols, we are to consider them,) was about 150 years, the period foretold t.
The * Euseb. H. E. lib. v. 20.
+ The exact time of the rise of the Gnostics having appeared to occasion some dispute in the literary world; it may be proper to add a few more words on this subject.-The learned have been generally
The Gnostics are represented to us, by the fathers, as deriving their religious principles from the Nicolar
agreed, by the testimonies of the ancients, (such as we have above reported,) to refer the rise of these heretics to the beginning of the second century. But Bishop Pearson, in his Vindiciæ Ignatianu, attempted to shew that they were of earlier date. He was answered in a very satisfactory manner by Dodwell, (Diss. i. in Irenæum). The learned and judicious Mosheim, having given a particular attention to this subject, has perfectly reconciled these contending opinions, by observing, that the Gnostics were lurking in the Church in the first century; but that it was not before the second century that they burst from their obscurity into open day :-“Certisque “ ducibus adscitis, stabilem sibi forman, certasque leges præscribe“bant.” (Com. de Rebus Christian. ante Const. Mag. Sæc. i. sect. Ix.) And again; qui, (scil. Gnostici,) quum primo rei Christianæ seculo sine luce et gloriâ vixissent, paucisque discipulis usi fuissent, Hadriano imperante, audaciùs rem suam agere incipiebant, atque per varias provincias paulatim familias satis numerosas colligebant, collectasque omni contentione roborare, ornare, ac amplificare studebant. Deficiebant ad hoc genus hominum plurimi Christianoruni, sanis antea sententiis deditorum, partim eloquentiâ quorundam fanaticâ ; partim pietatis quam nonnulli præ se ferebant, magnâ specie; partim etiam securius vivendi, et liberiùs peccandi desiderio, cui aliqui eorum favebant, allecti. (Sæc. ii. sect. xli. See also Mosheim's Eccl. Hist. cent. 11. c. 5. sect. 4.) The learned are now, I believe, generally agreed, that this is the true state of the question. Le Clerc had incautiously referred the times of Saturninus to the first century; but Mosheim has, in the same work, shewn this to be by mistake. (Sæc. ij. sect. xliv.) lle adds, that it is beyond all doubt, that all he numerous and important sects of the Gnostics flourished in the middle of the second century, and that the chief of them had their origin not long after the beginning of that century, “non diu post initia “ seculi exortas esse." Upon these authorities we shall appear fully justified in placing the rise of the Gnostics as a prevalent pestilential heresy, at or before the year 120. In the 17th of Adrian, anno 133, Basilides was living at Alexandria, (Euseb. Chron.); in 127 Marcion came to Ronie, (Iren. lib. iii. c. 4.) and there began to broach his false doctrine; and the leading teachers of these doctrines
tans * ; but as carrying their mischievous 'notions es arpov, to the utmost excess. To the wildest dreams
See note, ch. ii. 6. Clem. 'Alex. Strom. iii. 425. Epiphan. Hær. 25.
Cleniens Alexandrinus, to the times of the Antonines. (Strom. vii. ad fin.)
So much for the rise of the Gnostics. Their continuance, as a prevalent pestilential heresy, cannot be so accurately ascertained ; because their decline was gradual, and not, like their rise, by a sudden burst. But after the same manner as the question concerning the rise of these sects is properly confined to their appearance as a generally prevalent pestilential heresy, and is not affected by Gnostical principles having been previously professed by some few. Christians; so, the enquiry concerning the termination of this heresy is to be governed by the time, when these heretics appeared no longer in such numbers, as, fulfilling the prophecy, darkened the face of the Church. When they no longer appear in this character, the period we seek is arrived ; and we have no occasion to pursue their remains, a few stragling Gnostics, in whose times the Gnostical influence on Christianity was reduced to a still lower state than that in which it was seen previously to the grand irruption under Saturninus and Basilides.
Now it is clear from the writings of Irenæus, Tertullian, Clemens Alexandrinus, and of Plotinus, that the Gnostics continued to flourish in the times of these writers; which will be found to continue through the second century, and beyond the middle of the third. And after these times, we do not find that the champions of the Church had much occasion in their writings to oppose the doctrines of the Gnostics, or that they mention them as a swarming prevailing heresy. The history of the Church at the end of the third century is indeed imperfect; many of its records having perished in the Diocletian persecution: but in the beginning of the fourth century, when the Church, delivered from persecution, held frequent and general councils, and condemned the doctrines and opinions of the prevailing heretics; we hear little or nothing of those of the Gnostics. Hence it may be concluded that they were no longer formidable to the Church, and hence Mosheim and other ecclesiastical enquirers have observed, that the philosophy, which sprang up in the Church in the third cen
of visionary and fantastic philosophy, derived from the oriental schools, which they incorporated with
tury with Origen and others, ad absurda harum sectarum commenta profliganda et funditùs evertenda sufficiebat. (Mosheim de Rebus ante Const. sæc. ii. See also Eccl. Hist.) Yet it must not be concealed, that the same learned author has observed in another passage, that the followers of Marcion were not entirely eradicated before the fifth or sixth century. And the method which this judicious writer has taken (as above represented) to reconcile the jarring opinions concerning the rise of the Gnostics, must in this place be used to reconcile his own opinions concerning their continuance. The Gnostics were extinct, as a prevalent pestilential heresy; but from their ashes, yet warm, doctrines of a siinilar cast were seen, now and then, to blaze forth: but these were soon extinct again, and never acquired any thing like that universal domination, described by historians to have taken place in the second century; which they have hence denominated the Gnostic age. The Manichæans incorporated some Gnostic principles into their doctrines : but this sect was never sous. (Libanius, Epist. ad Priscian.; Lardner, Cred. vol. viii. 37, 57, 156.) Yet, in the page of history, it seems to have obtained a celebrity, equal, or perhaps superior, to that of the Gnostics. This cir. cumstance is to be attributed entirely to the numerous writings which have come down to us from the age of the Manichæans, while so few have descended from the Gnostical age. (August, cont. Faust. c. 20. 22; Lardner, Cred. vi. p. 38. 56. viii. 37.) The Priscillianists, in the fourth century, were also said to have sprung from the Gnostic ashes : but Gibbon calls them a recent sect : (Ilist. of Decline and Fall, chi, xxvii.) and Lardner, upon good reasons, which he assigns, doubts of this origin attributed to them. (Cred. Gosp. art. Priscil. lianists.) He says also, that they would have been little known or regarded, but from the violent and inhuman methods used to extirpate them. (Cred. vol. ix.) Excepting in these instances (which appear of a doubtful character, and by no means exhibit the Gnostical sects as continuing to darken and disturb the Christian world,) very few remains can be found of these heretics, beyond the time allotted to them in the propheoy. Yet, Epiphanius says, that in his times, in the fourth century, there were some relics of them. And this
be allowed, without impeaching the application of this prophecy to the